"Boredom is a Lack of Attention"

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Fritz Pearls, the famous Gestalt psychologist, spoke of the here-and-now and insisted that it must be the focus of our attention if we are to see things clearly and have the best chance to experience others, interactions, and situations as they really are. His adage that "boredom is a lack of attention," awakens us to this point succinctly.

Gestalt psychology also talks about foreground, background, and how attentional shifts create movement between the two: "I thought we were meeting to discuss our plans for accelerating our deliverables to the client, XYZ Company. But what I see us focusing on are questions of who should have been in the initial meeting to set expectations."

You've no doubt observed this phenomenon. Most of us have, and we and others in such meeting have responded differently. I may regard discussion of the initial client meeting as off-topic, it blocks progress on vital questions of execution. Those pressing a retrospective discussion see a need to process lessons learned.

Depending upon the intensity with which we hold our points of view and insist on our priorities, a tug of war might ensue. Eventually, we may ask, "What's our goal? Why are we meeting today?"

Checking In

What if we assumed that in every meeting people may arrive with differing expectations, and differing attitudes, emotions, and action priorities? An agenda may have been shared. Still, wouldn't it be good to pause and recognize that we are at the start of something, and then ask, "Here's what we have on the agenda, does this look like a plan?"

Might there be some "hidden" agendas or "unspoken" concerns? We can attribute negative intentions or motivations to these words, but the reasons for things to be hidden or unspoken can vary. We may have deliberately withheld dissent earlier when seeing the agenda, or maybe we just felt that something was missing that needed to be discussed.

Checking in can be a very brief and simple way to notice and address such alignment issues before getting too far down the road. It may prompt us to reconsider how we use our time and what we should do with what's not been included in the agenda. It's more than perfunctory; it's about being here now and giving all a chance to check in.

If we don't do this now, we can risk setting off oppositional dynamics in the meeting that undermine teamwork and efficacy. But perhaps even more important, we can miss the opportunity for the less assertive, less dominant voices to be heard. The meeting leader retains her prerogative to get us all to work - this should only take 5-7 minutes max!

Boredom, Resistance, Indifference - All Imply a Lack of Attention

These attitudes will arise. And when they do, we should regard them as signals that we are not engaged or that we have disengaged. That, in turn, means that we're not present in an meaningful, practical way. So, notice these reactions without judgment. Ask yourself what they're telling you about what's happening or not happening, and what you should do.

Even if the situation is one in which you decide to "ride it out," better to do so while being intentional and attentive to what's going in the room. Are there some dynamics that are at work that are problematic or confusing? What are they? With whom might you process this experience later if not in the moment? Learn from these situations.

Practice at home. If your partner or a significant other wants to tell his or her story about a work experience that's been troubling him/her and you are exhausted, let them know so that you can either decide to discuss it another time, or they'll at least know why you may look a bit less engaged or attentive than usual. This is checking in too.

Know the Person, Then Solve the Problem

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We rush headlong into problem solving out of a felt sense of urgency. It may be a conscientiousness that distinguishes our work ethic and service orientation. And if others – their actions, attitudes, or inaction – come between us and getting the problem solved, we can feel frustrated. Purposive strivings make us intense, our reputation is at stake. We’ve made promises and we want to keep them.

Our communications with others who slow, impede, or block our path of action may at first contain a tone of patience. But our intent to influence, guide, or direct action according to our purpose and priorities will be recognized. So, others respond with explanations, why they’re able or unable to comply with our “asks.” And at that point, we may reiterate (explain) why they should or must comply.

Notice, when we’re explaining in this way, we each assume our own point of view. We explain to influence and persuade that. We have good reason for asserting our position on the matter at hand. And our annoyance with the presumptuousness of others may grow: “They’re thinking only of themselves.” Oppositional tensions arise, and our defenses are activated.

Coercion is Usually Not Sustainable

There is another approach to solving problems and building qualities of problem-solving capacity. It’s called communicative action. It involves suspending our practical imperatives long enough to know the persons we are working with and with whom we're seeking to collaborate. Communicative action seeks understanding. It relaxes our urgent drive and influence efforts, knowing we can return to them soon enough.

We are individual agents of action. As persons, we operate from our own subjective centers of consciousness. You have your role, identity, purposes, and priorities. And you see the world (at work and outside of work) in light of these factors. I do the same, as do all others with whom we live and work. We’re separate but similar. We are “minded” creatures who also have needs to feel respected and be treated fairly.

Sound basic? Are you saying to yourself, “Of course, tell me something I don’t know!”? Well, the point is that when we’re caught up in the emotional intensity of our “practical” strivings, we lose sight of the fact that others live and are guided by their own practical strivings. What we need when these strivings are in conflict is a new, intersubjectively shared center of consciousness – what we shall strive for.

Yes, It’s About Slowing Down to Speed Up

Even after taking time to understand one another and form a shared view of our goals, one that is also informed by respect (and empathic feeling) for one another’s role, contributions, and accountabilities, there may be a need for compromise. I and/or others may sacrifice for the common good. But at this point, we are conscious of this sacrifice, respectful of those making it. We’re committed to fairness.

It’s not just cognitive understanding that we gain from taking time to know the other person/s and to appreciate their interests, concerns, values, and feelings. We acquire reasons of the heart from this dialogue. We care about one another and any third party (client or customer) who is the beneficiary of our collaborative efforts. Our heart is softened. Our mind is more open.

Under these changed circumstances, problem solving is so much easier, so much more intelligent, and our capacity for problem solving is so much more mature and adaptive.

A Rhythm of Connecting & Relating

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Life and relationships are essentially linked. Human existence, our basic feelings and experience of being human, derive vitality and meaning from our ways of connecting with and relating to others. This holds true in our personal and in our professional spheres of life. And we need to nurture and reaffirm these connections and relationships continually to sustain their vitality.

A Rhythm to Consider

The way we start and end our days with others is a good place to begin. This includes the way we awaken to the morning and draw our first conscious breaths. The feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations we experience in the morning can be calm or anxious. Our mind may be clear, rested, alert, or we may be in a fog, wanting to roll over and get another hour of sleep. It is what it is in that moment. Can we meet it, accept it, and go from there?

We may be called to action by an alarm clock, arise with an instinctive sense of urgency, and move into a sequence of actions that ready us to rush off to work. Or we may awaken in the company of a significant other, a spouse, partner, or maybe a pet. And noticing that we are with someone we care about, we may take a moment to simply be there with them, perhaps we're up and moving but we're being with them too.

The way we begin our day can include affirming connections and relationships or rushing ahead into a to-do list. Even when there are pets or children who require our attention in the morning, there are choices about how we wish to approach the tasks of attending to them. We can recognize them as tasks and expectations we asked for and wish to perform with love and care, or we can complain or resent them.

How is that you wish to start your day at home? Does it start the way you want it to, even when it includes demands to care for others as well as yourself? How might you wish to design it differently, and how much of that change includes an altered attitude, a readiness to pause even as you move? Do you smile or grimace? Do you breathe or “suck it up”? These are all choices!

And when you get to work, even before you enter and engage with people in the workplace, do you take a moment to notice where you are, how important it might be to notice where others are too – not just physically but emotionally, mentally, attitudinally? Take a breath. Be present. Know that you are a free agent, and that you affect others. How do you want to connect and relate?

Of course, there will be a chain of actions, reactions, and interactions throughout the day that evoke changes in mood, attitude, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Do yourself a favor, take a few timeouts, brief, 2-3 minutes, to pause, breathe, stop the escalation of emotional intensity, rumination, and distraction. Return to the actual now. Then reconnect, relate to others afresh.

At the end of the day, leave work not just physically but also mentally. Close the door as part of leaving, physically and mentally. What am I leaving for tomorrow? Where am I going now? Get yourself ready for the change even as you travel there. And if there’s evening work that you must do, open that door only when it’s time, and close it at a reasonable hour too. Be with those you care about, those you end the day with. 

How Are You Doing?

We’ve all heard the adage about how little of our brain’s capacity we actually use. Well, the brain can be taught to operate under the guidance of the mind, the free inner agency of our being. Or we can allow it to run unregulated by a considered awareness of what we truly value and live for – how we want to live. Slow down, breathe, give yourself a chance to freely choose how you live. 

Want Respect? First Respect Yourself

There are few things that offend us more than feeling disrespected by others. These insults take many forms: We are excluded from a meeting, others arrive late to our meeting, our comments are dismissed, or we’re spoken to in a harsh or inappropriate tone. Are they intentional? What motivates them? Are they about us, about who we are, about how valuable or deserving of respect we are?

Admittedly, in the rapid-fire interactions of the usual business day we may not pause to ask these questions. At least 50% of behavioral actions, interactions, and reactions are driven by habit, habits of thought and habitual assumptions about self, others, and the meanings of behavior. But reliance on habit does not mean we are incapable of invoking a reflective pause and questioning our experience – what’s happening?

Individual Differences - we're not mindreaders

Whatever we feel in the moment is real. As a feeling it conveys meaning, and whether positive or negative it has an effect. It can trigger reactions, it can prompt notice, and it can do both. In situations where it feels like we are not being respected, it’s critically important to notice and listen to these feelings. This is where respecting ourselves begins. It concerns our values, so these feeling are worth listening to.

If we are to really listen to them, however, we must notice what they are signaling: hurt, annoyance, outrage, or shock and disappointment. Any or all these emotions may come into play. Clarifying this meaning affirms the basis of insult – “That’s why I am offended and reacting so strongly!” But we don’t stop here. That’s only the beginning. The next question concerns what caused the behavior.

The actions by others may have been intentional or unintentional. They may have been motivated by malice toward us, or by a sense of urgency to act that led to rushed action and inadvertent offense to us. Even if the action was intentional and thoughtful, it may not have been informed by an awareness of our preferences for inclusion or involvement, or how the action might leave us feeling disrespected.

Now, mindful of why we felt disrespected and of the alternative reasons why this might have happened, we may have calmed our reactive emotions enough to intervene. And the best way to intervene in these matters is almost always live, face-to-face conversation. The best default assumptions are benevolent. We should assume that others were most likely trying to do something good, helpful, positive.

Assertiveness vs Aggression (or passive-aggression)

So, we begin speaking: “I am sure you felt that you were taking the best course of action, when you did this, but….” And we proceed from there to describe what concerned us about the action, i.e., what we had expected, wanted, and preferred and why. Then we seek to establish a clear, mutual understanding of how to avoid such “misses” in the future. 

Our initial effort to assertively engage others when we've felt disrespected may work easily, or it may require an iterative course of dialogue. Others might say, “I am not sure why you feel that way or have those preferences,” or they may say “I disagree with you about your preferred way of doing things." If so, we must hang in there, recycle the pause-reflect-discuss intervention in a dialogical manner.

If there is not complete resolution and agreement, we may need to take a break, reconsider one another’s positions, and schedule time to revisit the matter. If that still provides no resolution, perhaps we need to convene a meeting with superiors to place our dispute on the table for mediation. And along the way we must continually remind ourselves to make benevolent assumptions.

Summary: We must first take our own feelings seriously and understand what their telling us. Then we must examine our assumptions of cause and our attributions of intentions and motives to others. There is usually plenty of opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding in our fast-moving business world. Finally, we must clearly assert what we experience, expect, and prefer in a self-respecting manner. 

What is Customer/Client Centricity?

cen·tric·i·ty - a position of central prominence or importance
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Customer is a term of broader use than client. It is one who purchases a commodity or service. A client, on the other hand, is a person who engages the professional services or advice of another. Customers include those who engage in one-time transactions as well as longer-term commercial relationships. The term client usually signifies a more intimate long-term relationship. But let’s focus on centricity.

Centricity as Attitude and Action

To place those we serve, customer or client, at the center of our concerns is to regard them as an end rather than a means to an end. To regard another as an end is to acknowledge their dignity as a person, a unique and free moral agent. Therefore, we seek to operate with their interests in mind. We align our actions and design our goods or services to help them realize their aims. That is the value they pay for.

Some degree of empathic understanding is required to achieve and sustain this quality of alignment over time. We who provide goods and services will miss the mark at times, lose focus, and fall short of true customer/client centricity. And at that time, we have another opportunity to demonstrate commitment to centricity by acknowledging that we've lost alignment and getting back on track with them.

In fact, I would suggest that just as our readiness to restore good-faith relations is essential to building trust in a personal relationship, this “redemptive” act of transparency signals similar qualities of integrity and fidelity to the values in our commercial relationships. This implies that we take our relationship with the customer or client personally. We must treat them with care, as an end.  

Centricity as Structure and Strategy

Sustaining these norms of attitude and action over time will require that we design our organizational structure with this as a strategic intent. Marketing will continuously observe, study, and anticipate the direction in which their customers’ and clients’ markets are going. Product development and operations will continuously find ways to add value, reduce waste, and be a timely partner.

Strategic centricity can never be all things to all people. We must stake out a direction that we as a firm can deliver on. That means saying “no” to some opportunities in order to “yes” and keep our promises with those we are best designed to address exceptionally well. Adaptive change over time is made possible by sustaining an active, attuned quality of communication and performance measurement.

There is very little in the structure and strategy of the firm that cannot and should not be made clear to the customer or client. Both parties understand that risk-taking is inherent to a market economy. And in a customer/client centric business relationship these risks are discussed openly and honestly. Nothing is without cost. Informed consent is an essential element of any agreement.

Centricity as Duty to Serve

Ultimately, if we treat our customers and clients as an end, and if we place their interests at the center of our planning, decision-making, and actions, centricity becomes an ethic. It’s an ethic that calls upon us to consider what we owe to those we serve, but also what we owe to one another. We must form just and honorable alliances within our firm and between us as a firm and our clients and customers.

If we cannot treat one another as persons, as ends and not merely means, how will we be able to uphold this ethic in our marketplace dealings. Again, we will fall short from time to time. The stresses and stain of our fast-moving, 24/7 economy can leave us feeling ragged at times. So, we must cultivate the capacity to notice this fatigue factor and intervene accordingly, to acknowledge, apologize, and make it right.

What I have suggested here clearly goes beyond marketing hyperbole. Few could argue with the idea of centricity. It makes sense, and it works well when realized in action. One way to ensure that we sustain our duty to serve is to make sure we align our interest with those whose interests we serve. We must pursue our work in a way that pays off for us while also being highly valuable for those we serve. That's an ethical and commercial win-win!